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Key Concepts of Mishlei 16-25, 26 (Delusion)
When a person is faced with choices he is naturally tempted to follow the path of least resistance, the path which seems easiest to follow. Even if that path is destined to cause him great unhappiness, he may be inclined to choose it because of his appetite for immediate physical comfort and his reluctance to deal with the demands of his conscience. He makes that bad choice because he deludes himself into thinking that if something looks good it must be good.
Mishlei presents the two choices in stark terms, calling one the single straight road and the other the multiple roads of death. The straight road seems smooth and easy to follow. For the moment there is a delusion that it is the only logical choice. However, if he would stop and think a bit more about it, he would realize how many calamitous destinations it can lead to.
This segment consists of two proverbs which are linked together to form a complete thought. The first proverb has already been presented independently in Segment 14-12 (Discernment). The perspective there was simply recognize the consequences of an intellectual decision.
In an unusual step, Mishlei repeats that proverb here to serve as a preamble to the second proverb, which relates a person’s decision to the conflict between his body and soul.
In the second proverb Mishlei warns against improper burdening of the soul by forcing it to accept the appetites of the body. All of this can come about because a person is tempted to delude himself into keeping the body comfortable and satisfying it with earthly pleasures.
(כה) יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי אִישׁ וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ דַּרְכֵי מָוֶת: (כו) נֶפֶשׁ עָמֵל עָמְלָה לּוֹ כִּי אָכַף עָלָיו פִּיהוּ:
(25) There may be a straight road before a man, but at its end are the roads of death. (26] [That is what happens if] his toiling soul is toiling for [his physical comfort] because his [appetite] is pushing him.
(כה) יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי אִישׁ
וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ דַּרְכֵי מָוֶת:
There may be a straight and seemingly smooth road before a man — יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי אִישׁ and he is glad to follow it, thinking it will only give him physical pleasure. But he should ask himself whether the current road leads to other roads that are dangerously twisted, so that at its end are the roads of death — וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ דַּרְכֵי מָוֶת .
. (כו) נֶפֶשׁ עָמֵל עָמְלָה לּוֹ
כִּי אָכַף עָלָיו פִּיהוּ:
If his toiling soul — נֶפֶשׁ עָמֵל , instead of toiling in Torah, toils for him (his body with its physical pleasures) — עָמְלָה לּוֹ , he will end up tragically because his mouth (his appetite) is compelling him — כִּי אָכַף עָלָיו פִּיהוּ .
The above interpretation is based on the commentary of Rabbeinu Yonah. However, there are a number of alternate interpretations, offering a variety of insights into these pesukim. Some samples are given here. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
(1) The expression עָמְלָה לּוֹ suggests that the soul has been toiling for it (the body) to give it physical pleasure, as opposed to the proverb in Segment 16-24 which speaks of the אִמְרֵי נֹעַם , the words of pleasantness that give sweetness to the soul.
(2) An alternate interpretation of עָמְלָה לּוֹ is that his נֶפֶשׁ has selfishly learned Torah for itself only. That doesn’t count as learning Lishmah (for its own sake) because he has covered his mouth — כִּי אָכַף עָלָיו פִּיהוּ instead of teaching his Torah wisdom to others.
(3) Another interpretation takes an opposite point of view and sees the pasuk describing how the נֶפֶשׁ benefits from its own toil ( עָמְלָה לּוֹ ) if the mouth submits to it ( כִּי אָכַף עָלָיו פִּיהוּ ). According to that interpretation the two proverbs are unlinked.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – רבינו יונה
(2) – בינה ל’עתים
(3) – רלב”ג